By Caurie Putnam
WARSAW, N.Y. (Reuters) - Three guards at Attica prison in western New York pleaded guilty on Monday to official misconduct in a deal that spared them prison terms stemming from the severe beating of an inmate, prosecutors said.
As part of the deal, brutality charges against the three guards were dropped and they resigned from the maximum security prison, the Wyoming County District Attorney's office said.
The deal was reached just as jury selection was about to begin in the trial of Keith Swack, Sean Warner and Matthew Rademacher in state Supreme Court in Warsaw, some 45 miles (72 km) east of Buffalo and about 14 miles (22 km) from Attica.
They faced felony charges of brutality stemming from the beating of Attica inmate George Williams in August 2011.
Williams, who was serving a two- to four-year sentence for robbing two New York City jewelry stores, was badly injured with broken bones and still walks with a cane, prosecutors said.
The guards had been charged with first-degree gang assault, a law typically aimed at controlling prison violence by inmates.
Under the plea deal, the guards avoided the possibility of a one-year prison term associated with the misdemeanor misconduct charge, prosecutors said.
Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O'Geen said at a news conference that prosecutors agreed to the deal rather than a trial given that the guards had no prior criminal histories and there were difficulties in finding inmate witnesses to the beating.
"This prosecution has always been about holding these three accountable for their abuse of power and to once and for all get them out of the corrections profession," O'Geen said, adding: "I don't think losing their job was a slap on the wrist."
The case marked the first time criminal charges had been brought against state corrections officers, and guilty pleas filed, for non-sexual assault on an inmate by on-duty guards, officials said.
The victim, who is no longer in prison, approved the deal, O'Geen said.
Some critics have called for the closing of the Attica Correctional Facility, saying the atmosphere has remained tense since violence at the prison in September 1971 left 43 men dead and 89 wounded.
O'Geen said installation of cameras at Attica would help protect guards and inmates. State officials say there are a few cameras at the prison, and plans call for several hundred more to be installed this year.
(Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Will Dunham)